An F1 season simply wouldn’t be an F1 season without a major technical controversy and 2014’s issue has arrived. Last year, around about the same time in the season, the construction of Pirelli’s tyres were altered and this year, the suspension is coming under scrutiny, as the FIA have finally deemed FRIC (Front and Rear Interconnected) suspension, illegal. This believed to be more integral to performance in some cases than others. Therefore the implications of this could be anywhere between slight and hugely significant. Could this be the end of the Mercedes dominance in 2014?
Illegal But Not Banned
To put it simply, FRIC is a similar system to active suspension – not related but slightly alike. Basically, FRIC allows the front suspension to talk to the rear, improving balance as it aids stability by keeping ride height as consistent as possible. While the system is ultimately shifting from front to rear, some more advanced systems are believed to also be shifting from left to right, which would significantly benefit mid-corner balance.
Details as to why this development has been under the radar for so long are yet unclear. The FIA would certainly not be inclined to make a major technical decision mid-season, which suggests to me that this type of system has been a concern for a while. The FIA have stated that it is a breech of Article 3.15 because it is considered to be a moveable aerodynamic device. My guess is that the teams have been on the threshold of a loophole for a while now. I doubt that a design that is used almost unanimously and since the start of the season will have remained a secret for this long. Joe Bauer and his team of scrutineers must have been monitoring FRIC for a while, yet only now that it has developed to operate left and right have they had enough evidence to declare it illegal.
However, illegal is just what it is – As of yet, it has not been banned. Teams are expected to be given the option to veto this verdict for 2014, meaning that FRIC will only be banned from 2015 onwards. Here is where the situation moves from being a sporting issue to a political one. In order to veto, the teams need to make a unanimous decision, and the chance of a unanimous decision in this sport is as likely as England winning the World Cup in 2018. In this case, its even less likely. Ten teams could potentially agree to delay the ban until 2015, but Force India would have no interest in agreement, as they do not use FRIC suspension. Hence, if it is outlawed, they stand to make the biggest gains. Therefore, it seems likely that an immediate ban will be established.
Despite this, teams will have to ditch FRIC prior to the German Grand Prix anyway, as the system is illegal – if a team attempts to use it, they will risk being disqualified. Only in the event that a unanimous decision is reached will teams be able to continue using it.
Who Will Be Effected
Currently, no-one can be clear as to which teams are set to suffer the biggest losses. It is widely assumed that Mercedes will be affected the most, for a number of reasons. They are widely regarded to be the team who are utilising the full capabilities of FRIC, and they are potentially the only team who are able to harness the sideways motion. Obviously, the advantage that they are set to loose is yet unclear. I for one, doubt that we will see them drop into the pack, but they will certainly fall into the clutches of their rivals. They should still be the fastest team, but not be as much as we have seen so far this season.
For Force India, this debacle is excellent news. After their disappointment in regards to last season’s tyre composition change which seriously effected their campaign, they are set to make the biggest gains since they do not currently use FRIC. Its no surprise that the Silverstone based team have been willing to make comments, while the likes of Mercedes are yet to make a statement in regards to the news. Perhaps the championship leaders are taking stock and working out by how much this is going to affect them.
One other team who may find that their relative pace increases is Marussia. They have been one of the few teams to openly discuss FRIC in the past few days, with Max Chilton highlighting that they ran without the system in the second day of this weeks test at Silverstone. Max suggested that the balance shift was not as dramatic as he first anticipated – perhaps because Marussia’s system was not quite as effective. Regardless, teams who haven’t mastered the technology could find their position in the pecking order is altered to a much lesser extent than those teams who have a vastly more technical system.
However, at the moment, this is pure speculation. We may get to Germany and find that the pecking order remains identical to the first half of this campaign. At least, this is what Mercedes will be hoping. The scale of FRIC’s influence will be realised soon enough.